Wednesday, May 22, 2013
A red fabric scrapbook sits underneath a bed, coated in a thick layer of dust. It was a gift from me to him years ago. The first few pages are full of photographs and mementos. The rest was left blank, intended to be filled with more of the same by now. But it's still blank. Still just a bit forgotten as life transpired over those years.
The story begins simply enough: two just-barely-adults who met by chance. Or destiny, if you're prone to believe in those sorts of things. It was a chance encounter; a stroke of dumb luck.
The nearly-empty scrapbook has been dusted off and pulled out a handful of times since it was filed away in the dust and clutter under that bed.
It's the photographs that whisk me back--the moments I had temporarily forgotten that still have such power over my heart.
It's this one I love the most. It wasn't long after we met in late 2002 that he left for a co-op in Arlington, Virginia. Back when he wanted to be an engineer, not a teacher. It would be easier if we dated other people, we agreed.
I remember the ribbed black turtleneck I wore. I had just gotten over mono. He was so concerned for me; carefully watching over me from a distance to be sure I was OK. A pattern that remains intact today.
More than anything, that photo reminds me the most powerful thing that exists in this world isn't our words.
It's what we don't say.
It was about the way he looked at me. The way he still looks at me.
Months later, after a few drinks, I would call him in tears and confess I didn't want to see other people. I only wanted to see him. And that, as they say, was that.
Love is such a funny thing because it's not just one thing; it's an intricately woven tapestry of many, many things that cannot be easily described with words. It just is.
This is why the concept of falling in love has always baffled me. You're in or you're out. The way I see it, there's no middle ground.
That night eleven years ago, wearing that turtleneck and that stupid flippy blond hairdo---I knew. I didn't know what I knew, but I could feel it.
No one had ever looked at me like that before. It was electric.
And still today, I can touch that photo and be whisked back to the start of something beautiful. A patient man with bright blue eyes who looked at me that way.
I'm not an easy person to love. I'm as needy as I am staunchly independent. As stubborn as I am sweet. As tough as I am soft. My tongue is very sharp, but my heart is very easily bruised.
Love is everything that anyone who has written about it says it is. But for me, it's moments in time. Captured as they happened. Carefully placed in a scrapbook.
Forgotten momentarily, underneath my bed.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Today is my husband's 31st birthday.
And this gift giving occasion makes me realize that I’m a lot of things, but naturally thoughtful is not one of them.
Christmas was a bit of a disaster, you see. He bought himself a sandblasting cabinet a few weeks before Christmas. And I recalled a conversation about not exchanging gifts because of this purchase. As luck would have it, this discussion only took place inside my head. He gave me an amazing Christmas gift. And I didn’t get him anything.
The lesson here is this: despite someone telling you it’s alright you forgot about them, it still hurts when someone forgets about you. That over-used saying is true: it really is about the thought.
I’ve spent months feeling terrible about my lack of thoughtfulness. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be thoughtful. It’s about taking the time to do things that allow people to understand they have worth. That you see them. Realize the importance of their contribution in this world. And that you’re willing to take the time to show them.
Relationships work when you work at them, simply put. And it doesn’t take much time to understand that, for the people who know you love them, just knowing it isn’t enough. You have to tell them. And show them. And you have to do it over and over again.
I’m the lucky one is this partnership. I’m married to a man who is incredibly thoughtful. He listens to everything I say. He notices. And he’s much more generous (and at least ten times more patient) than I am. He doesn’t do it to make me look like a terrible person; he does it because that’s who he is.
And I’ve given him a series of well-planned and thoughtful gifts over the last month. I’ll give him the final gift today, on his birthday, which I did not forget.
Remembering his birthday was the least I could do.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” –Kathrine Switzer
The marathon is an amazing thing.
It’s a testament to love, hard work, dedication, strength, and an amazing feat of human will.
People gather in the masses to encourage, uplift, and show love for their family and friends. But it’s the fact that they’re so willing to do the same for complete strangers that’s so beautiful.
A particularly tough stretch of the Columbus marathon taught me that lesson last fall.
Rounding the corner of mile 18, I felt a spectator watching me intently. As I passed, she reached out for me with a gentle hand.
“Emily,” she said, meeting my eyes squarely. “I’m proud of you.”
Shocked, I squeaked out a thank you and kept running. But her words never left me. Someone who didn’t know me was proud of me. She took the time to notice that I was doing something difficult and felt compelled to show me the same kindness she might have shown her own daughter.
When I heard what happened in Boston yesterday, I thought of that woman. The one who showed me kindness for no other reason than for the sake of kindness. I don’t know who she is. But I'll never forget her.
Yesterday, people at the finish line of the Boston Marathon responded to tragedy the way I expected them to—with love, kindness, and compassion.
I got up early this morning. Very early. I put on my shoes and headed outside in the dark. It was probably a dangerous idea on my part, but I did it anyway.
I ran alone, in the silence of the early morning. I listened to my breathing, felt my feet hit the pavement in rhythm. And I cried.
I cried because the world is a tough place for you and I. Those of us who feel and love and try to see the best in others. It’s easy to be discouraged, isn’t it? Easy to feel like no place is safe for us anymore.
But, it is. Try to find your peace in those stories of the helpers. Those who ran toward the danger, not away. Who were kind and protective of strangers who needed them.
And remember: no matter who you are or where you go, someone is proud of you.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I've talked about survival before. Clearly I have some sort of fixation with concept. I did name this blog City Girl Can Survive, after all.
It still fascinates me, though. How do people manage, time and time again, to survive something terrible?
I keep going back to grief. It is commonly said that everyone grieves differently--I believe this is true. But I also have to believe that once grief fades away, survival is what sets in. And surviving? That is something we all do differently as well.
Some of us pour our hearts out. Some make light of their hardship. Others pour their energy into their work. Some keep it all inside. Some become angry. And unfortunately, some self-destruct.
There's no right way to survive--just like there's no right way to grieve. But this is the fascinating part: no one ever teaches you how to survive. No one sits you down as a small child and explains that life won't always be fair.
No, no one does that. At least no one I've ever met. Our parents arm us with what they believe are the skills we need to survive life. But they cannot anticipate what lies ahead--and they will never truly know.
And really? Neither do you. You cannot prepare for everything; which pretty much means you cannot prepare for anything.
I remind myself of this over and over again. Because if anyone is bad at taking my advice, it's me.
I'm terrible at taking my advice because life, if you haven't noticed, is a very fluid thing. It expands and contracts and spins in all sorts of directions almost constantly. And the moment you think you have your act together, you don't.
Because no one does--even the ones who seem like they do. And that's just as frustrating as it is comforting.
Some days, knowing that something terrible is part of a greater plan pisses me off. Other times, it's incredibly comforting. Either way, it's never the same feeling.
What I know for sure is this: you shouldn't just try to survive, you should try to live. Every day. With meaning. Substance. And a hunger to survive everything thrown your way.